Imagining Religion: Pilgrim Tour From Mosque to Monastery
By Mon Mon Myat
Almost 3 weeks of reading and talking about religion, conflict and peace in the box that is the IRCP study room and for the first time we go out of the box and listen to the others about their religious belief systems. The tour was very enlightening to me as the one who had never been to the other temples except from the temple of my own religion.
I grasped myself that I was living in the box for such long. For almost 50 years, I have never visited to a mosque with the presumption that Buddhists are not allowed. In fact I have never tried either.
The first place we visited was Attaqwa Mosque in Chiang Mai, which was founded by Chinese Muslim community in 1970. The age of the building is just the same as my age.
When I saw a Muslim woman sitting side by side with the Imam and help translating and explaining about their religion, I was surprised because in our culture, women cannot sit side by side with a monk. Women can sit either in a lower area or sit in another side.
We learned from discussion that Muslim population in Thailand is from 6 to 10 percentage of Thai population. Muslim community, coming from different countries including China, Tajikistan, Southern Thailand and Arab countries, is a minority group in Thailand just like they are in Myanmar.
However the woman who explained about Muslim community saying that she considered herself as Thai
Sometimes it seems as if “Terrorist” is the image of Islam. But the role of Imam in Muslim community is only to lead prayers, to read Quran and to deal with something coming from outside. Imam is a kind of spiritual leader in the community.
“Islam does not allow Women to be Imam”, she explained, and she seemed quite happy with the place where she is. This is very similar to a saying we have that “If you try hard, you can become God” but it is just for men. It gave me a thought that why religion set limitations for women. I find this very unfair.
I think to myself, God must be afraid of women. I wonder why this is the case?
Then we visited to the Gurudwara Sikh Temple where we met a Sikh leader, Mr. Frank Singh. What I like most about the discussion is that “equality exists in Sikhism”.
The leader explained Sikhism is a monotheistic religion and believes in “One God”. Sikhism does not believe superstition, next life and heaven or hell. And Sikhism does not allow polygamy.
We learned that five articles of faith that Sikh wears are:
- Long hair
- A wooden comb
- Short undergarment (or) boxer short
I have read from an article in Huffington Post newspaper “Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world with a population of upwards of 30 million worldwide. There is even an estimated 250,000 Sikhs in the United States having first arrived in the late 19th century.”
The leader said Sikhism originated from Punjab region in India. Sikhism was founded as a rejection to Hinduism’s caste system in the 15th century.
“Sikh people were recognized as warriors, or “Singh” in Punjabi.” The leader recalled how Sikh people struggled for survival between majority religious groups, Hindu and Muslim, in India. He said Sikh people fought “to defend ourselves”.
He said Sikh generation in Thailand nowadays is the 4th generation, “we cannot be in India, and consider ourselves as Thai” just like what the woman in Muslim community said.
The most important thing to live among other communities is “Understanding”, he added.
It gave me a thought that our old ancestors should have learned about “understanding” for peaceful coexistence in the past.
Then we moved to our last stop, Wat Pha Chi where we met a humble monk Pra Maha Ampon.
It was a Buddhist Sabbath day in the Lent period, so the Wat was a little crowded with grannies and grandpas in white clothing in a peaceful environment.
For a young monk, Pra Maha Ampon, Buddhism offers him an opportunity to education. Coming from a poor family in remote area of Thailand, his parent could not afford to send him to the school. Instead they sent him to the monastery where he gained education specializing in Pali language. Now he offers his service to the Buddhist community through teaching the Pali language to novices and serving the spiritual needs of the community. He explained Buddhism in Thailand has two factors, teaching and following. Through his explanation we have learned basic concept of Theravada and Mahayana in Buddhism.
Due to limited time, we could not explore enough about Buddhism. The only thing following on the way return is one thing the young monk said.
Most people think if someone wears a monk’s robe, he becomes a monk. But unless he is following Buddha’s teaching and rules, he won’t be a monk or a Buddhist.
Through this Pilgrim Tour, we could imagine different belief systems and the way people are practicing. If we “consider ourselves” as human being, we will have more “understanding”. If we can take refuge in this concept as “religion”, it will give us “Peace” and create “peaceful coexistence” among different communities. Let us end the tour with a thought for peace.